Sunset photo of Joshua trees with mountains in background.
Cole et al. (2011) foresee “the future elimination of Joshua tree throughout most of the southern portions of its current range,” thus invalidating a past premise of stability of the Joshua tree as a climax species. Photo by NPS / Emily Hassell.

National Park Service news release cross-posted with permission

News Release Date: January 19, 2021

Contact: Jeff Olson

The National Park Service and several federal land management agency partners recently published a report titled Resist-Accept-Direct (RAD)—A Decision Framework for the 21st-century Natural Resource Manager. The report presents and explores a simple set of distinct management options that decision makers can consider when responding to ecosystems facing the potential for rapid, irreversible ecological change. In so doing, the report provides a framework that encourages natural resource managers to consider strategic, forward-looking actions, rather than structure management goals based on past conditions.

The natural world is always changing, as it cycles from summer to winter, from hot years to cool ones, and from dry decades to wet ones. Historically, careful study of these rhythms allowed people to understand and manage lands and waters to meet their needs. And for over a century, known past conditions have served as a baseline for conservation efforts including management of natural resources in parks.

But the past is no longer the guide it used to be. Today, climate change is rapidly altering environmental cycles and processes with new trends and phenomena, reshaping ecosystems in national parks and other protected areas. For example, changes driven by increases in heat and aridity across much of the National Park System include:

large-scale tree loss in places like Sequoia and Rocky Mountain National Parks, increases in the extent of wildfire in Yosemite and other Western parks, migration of entire biological communities in places like Noatak National Preserve, and threats to the persistence of iconic species like the namesake trees of Joshua Tree National Park Climate change will continue to affect ecosystems of national parks and other protected areas for decades to come, transforming landscapes in surprising ways. Thus, the National Park Service and other natural resource management agencies need to consider how to determine and achieve conservation goals in realistic and sustainable ways under conditions of rapidly changing environments.

The Resist-Accept-Direct (RAD) decision framework provides a simple tool that encompasses the entire decision space for responding to ecosystems facing the potential for rapid, irreversible ecological change. It assists managers in making informed, purposeful choices about how to respond to the trajectory of change, and moreover, provides a straightforward approach to support resource managers in collaborating at larger scales across jurisdictions, which today is more urgent than ever.